The column | Beautiful send-off for a friend, full of life to the end

In the last few days of his life, Rico Hurvich was on oxygen and connected to various monitors, but he wore an orange beret and flower lei with his hospital gown, his toenails painted purple ­by his 4-year-old granddaughter.

None of that surprised me when I heard. But as I sat last week at Tiburon’s Congregation Kol Shofar, his shul for decades, with numerous others who had come to mourn him — all of us wearing brightly colored leis provided by his family — I realized how sometimes it takes a death for you to realize how little you actually know about a person.

Rico’s daughter Elizheva has been one of my closest friends since I moved here 14 years ago; I met her six months after I arrived. And given that her dad lived locally, well, he was just part of the bargain. Whether it was volunteering to usher at Jewish Music Festival concerts, or joining us at the Jewish Film Festival, I got used to Rico coming along.

I don’t have to tell those who knew him that Rico was quirky and unconventional, two characteristics that Rabbi Chai Levy mentioned in her eulogy. I think, initially, I couldn’t get over how different he was from my own strait-laced professor father.

I quickly became accustomed to his joke-telling. Often they were off-color, like: A guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office wearing only Saran Wrap and says, “Doc, I’ve got a problem.” “Well I can clearly see your nuts,” the psychiatrist replies. Half the time when Rico said he had a story to tell you, you found yourself waiting for the punch line, even when it wasn’t a joke.

I soon learned how much his sense of humor had helped him move on from great tragedy.  Some at the funeral didn’t know this, but Elizheva, her sister Sarah Ivory-Donnelly and the rabbi decided to talk openly about the fact that Elizheva’s mother, Laura, took her own life when Elizheva was only 14 months old. While Rico’s sister and mother offered to take baby Lizzie and raise her, he refused.

It wasn’t always easy raising a child as a single father; in fact, it was often difficult. But hearing Elizheva thank her dad at his funeral for making that choice was one tearjerker moment in a day filled with them.

I never knew that as an ACLU lawyer, Rico was instrumental in a case allowing girls to play in Little League, or that he fought for the rights of nudists on Marin County beaches (somehow, that one didn’t surprise me). Or that he founded the Marin Law Center, which empowered people to advocate for themselves on legal issues. Or that he fought for fathers’ rights, based on his own experience. Or that he changed his name to Rico from Fred after a heart attack, following an old Jewish custom, to fool the angel of death after a close call.

Rico was a great music fan, and when I heard about the moment of his passing, it was so very fitting.

Elizheva described it in great detail at the funeral: how his last words before he closed his eyes were, “All right then, goodbye,” and how she and her sister were holding each of his hands, with other close family in the room. “Let It Be” was playing on Pandora. They toasted him with Johnnie Walker Black. “We couldn’t be more blessed,” Elizheva said.

The crowd sang “Let It Be” at the funeral, with the rabbi gently suggesting we change the “Mother Mary” lyric to “Shechinah.”

And after we proceeded to the cemetery, in intermittent rain, Jonathan Bayer and a few Dixieland/klezmer musicians were playing “Shalom Chaverim.” That Rico wanted a Jewish burial was never in question, but he had said that he liked the idea of a wake, where people would be celebrating him. Elizheva took that to mean a band should be at the graveside. It was a beautiful send-off, and I felt as if we were enjoying ourselves with him one last time.

The band stopped as we shoveled the dirt, in silence.

That night I attended services at my shul, Berkeley’s Chochmat HaLev, where Elizheva is also a member. My husband and I didn’t feel ready to take off our leis yet, so we wore them to services. Several others who had been at the funeral were wearing theirs, too. It was as if Rico was still there, with us, for one last hurrah.

Thank you, Rico, for exemplifying a most colorful exit, as unconventional, quirky and unique as you were.

Alix Wall is a writer in Oakland. Reach her at [email protected]

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."